B&N Week 160: What Exercises Can Strengthen Your Skills?

| January 14, 2014


It’s another Tuesday! I don’t know about you, but I really wish I were in Australia right now. I’m a tennis watcher, and right now, we have the Australian Open going on. If I were in Australia, I’d have done a lot of writing and scheduling beforehand, so that I’d have no problems or worries except being in the heat.

I look at these tennis players, and I think of the sport itself as the ultimate one-on-one competition. Hand-eye coordination, skill, willpower, reflexes, strategy, tactics, and stamina that most people simply don’t possess. There is no time limit on a single game or match, unlike other one-on-one sports such as boxing or MMA fighting. The top tennis players are exceptionally fit. They go through a lot of exercises in order to perfect their craft. I believe we can learn a lot from them.

The question to ask, then, is simple: What Exercises Can Strengthen Your Skills?

Sure, sure, you can create every day. That’s the simple [yet true] answer. But what do you do when you create every day? Isn’t that answer a bit vague? Let’s talk about the answers that can come when you go into specifics.

Writers: Sure, you can write every day, but I also believe you need to read every day, too. Go outside your comfort zone. Study. Copy. No, don’t plagiarize, because that’s wrong, but copy things in order to understand the mechanics of what the writer has done, how they affected their readership. What are you copying? Everything. Not just comic books, but everything outside of comics, too. Newspapers, novels, magazines, leaflets, technical manuals, textbooks everything.

You also need to listen. Listen to everything, for everything. Accents, dialects, drama, comedy, timing, age, and more. Mix and match. If you’re writing a period piece, read and watch things from that period. Everything and everyone provides you with a learning opportunity. Don’t waste it.

Pencilers: You can draw every day, but what are you drawing? Yes, you need to know anatomy, but you need to know and understand more than just human anatomy. Pencilers, your job is just as important as the writer’s, because you’re the one providing the visuals. What do you have to know? Let’s list them: human anatomy, most animal anatomy, basic vehicle construction, architecture, fabric, fashion design, light and shadow, textures, plants, and more, culminating in imagination.

Wherever you’re weak, work on it. Push your limits. There is always something you can become better at. After, and only after, you have a stable foundation can you start to use shortcuts. But you need to build that foundation first.

Inkers: Your playground is light and shadow, but you also need to know most of what the penciler knows, too. You should be an artist in your own right. But some exercises you can do have to deal with light, shadow, and textures.

Reversals [blacks where there should be whites and vice versa], playing with textures [is that pipe rusty or clean, what fabric is that jacket?], what happens when you move the light source from one side to another? Take images and play games with them. Can you push a foreground image to the mid-ground? Can you direct a reader’s eye by making a single aspect pop from the image? There are lots of things you can do to strengthen your skills. The more you learn, the better your arsenal when you go to attack work that will be published.

Colorists: Your job is also important. Your palette will help to set the stage for the story. What exercises can you do?

Like the inker, you can play with the light sources. You can try different techniques. You can go against color theory just to see what it will look like. Make the reader’s eye go to a specific part of the panel. Go from moody and dark to bright and slick. Play.

Letterers: Your practice could be all about cutting. Have word balloons go behind people and objects, placing the words around them, so you’re more familiar with the process when you have no choice but to do it for published projects. This is in addition to correct placement of dialogue and sound effects.

While you could also try hand lettering [a very labor intensive task], I suggest playing with fonts. See why certain fonts are for dialogue, and why others are more fit for sound effects. Also, see how certain dialogue fonts can change how the reader is affected by the story.

Editors: You’re not off the hook. You have strengths and weaknesses as well. It’s just harder for you, because you have no real place to hide. If your weakness is dealing with creators and their excuses, or asserting yourself, or working with talent period, it’s more difficult to practice because those things can be few and far between, coupled with the fact that you’re working on a live project.

However, if you feel you’re weak in spotting errors in art, that is something that can be learned. Errors in the pencils and the inks, the storytelling, and all aspects of the art itself—all of that can be learned and worked on. And it should be.

Those are just some exercises that can be performed to strengthen your skills. This is just a starting point. Take the ideas and run with them. Create others. Practice. Push. Become proficient.

That’s all. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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